retweeting is not enough

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Last month I made a racket about leaving the patient engagement world.  I resigned from all my current positions as a patient representative on committees and groups.  My rather rhetorical question was: To what end have I put hundreds of (mostly unpaid) hours of work working with organizations to change a health system that does not want to be changed?  I have been sold a lie.  Nobody can show me any evidence that patient engagement efforts lead to meaningful system change.

Many people, including senior leaders of health organizations, retweeted my blog post saying things like: A must read!  This was momentarily flattering, until I recognized once again that talk is cheap without action. Of the organizations I departed from?  Three simply ignored me after I resigned.  One said, ‘I’m sorry you are burned out.’  And one leader sent one of her staff members to meet me for coffee.  I found the last response most promising.

And I hereby introduce the notion of The Exit Interview into the patient engagement world.

If you are collecting feedback about how you are doing patient engagement, I would respectfully suggest not only speaking to those currently involved with your organization.  Please consider scheduling a conversation with those who have left.  There are great lessons for those leaders who are unafraid of constructive feedback and who are open to being curious.

An Exit Interview says this:

  • I am not making assumptions about why you left.  Common assumptions associated with patients are: you burned yourself out, you are too busy, you are sick.  (Note these reasons deflect the responsibility for the leaving solely onto the patient).
  • I am open to the notion that if this is relationship-based work, I might have a role in your departure.
  • I am curious how our organization (and indeed me) could have done a better job engaging you.
  • I will apply the learnings from the Exit Interview to improve and grow.
  • I will do my best not to take your constructive feedback personally.
  • I acknowledge the courage it takes to speak up to give this type of feedback.

Alas, the lone organization who scheduled the Exit Interview with me cancelled our meeting.  We picked another date but then the staff member cancelled again.  This time she didn’t reschedule.  I get it.  I won’t let the door hit me on the way out.

Less Retweeting.  More Action.  An Exit Interview is a great start, a practical idea that could be implemented right away in Patient Engagement programs.  Unless you are only looking for cheerleaders, which means that engagement is an exercise in tokenism to you.

I only get one swan song and this is it.  My own take-away lesson is this:  perhaps sharing our time and stories isn’t about changing the health system after all.  Maybe it is instead about making connections with one person at a time.  Maybe one single person chatted with me in the hall or read my writing or heard me speak and tilted their head and paused to think, ‘gosh I never thought about things that way.’  If us patients and caregivers advance the understanding that there are different perspectives, diverse points of view, other ways to look at things – well then maybe that’s not a failure after all.


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